Tagged: failure

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

I had the opportunity to discuss the idea of Flipping yesterday – I was conscripted for the assignment – and was both terrified and excited.

My plan started with a PollEverywhere multiple choice question asking the participants if flipping was new, if they’d heard of it, or if they equated it with videos.  From there, I’d begin my spiel focusing adding/deleting to what I’d say based on the numbers from the poll.



Then, the discussion ebbed and flowed around the responses to questions I created from the Flipped Learning pdf.  I wanted to push the idea that many of them, based on their response, were already heading down the flipped path: they were adjusting and modifying instruction based on what students needed, they were modifying their environments as needed, etc.  The next step was up to them, how did they see themselves moving forward.  I used a couple of questions from Jon Bergman’s “Questions before you flip;” however, I kept it a little too open.  The questions didn’t guide the discussions in the way I had hoped.  And, suddenly time was up, and I hadn’t helped them accomplish anything.  My one goal, to give them something to move forward with on their own, had not materialized; I’d failed.  Ugh.

Not everything was bad.  I know my beginning was sound; though, I should have let the participants give me their definition of ‘flipping,’ i.e., an open-ended question instead of the multiple choice.  My presentation, the launching pad for the time-block (thanks to the help and feedback from folks on Twitter: Doug Ragan, Kristin Gregory, Marcia Powell, Marc Seigel, & Julia Winter — Thanks to them again!) was solid and did let me address a few key ideas.

The most important piece of advice, though, I didn’t take to heart: sharing my story.  I ended up getting too caught up in not wanting to influence how ‘flipping’ was perceived, I forgot to show what I do.  (This was also the most important critique for improvement I received from a colleague I work with who attended.)  I use videos, it works for my classes; I think it works great for any science class.  All I had to say was, “it may not be what’s best for you & your subject;” but it would have given them an idea, a place to start.  I failed to give them this starting place, I failed to give them a concrete example.  I was afraid the ‘technology’ would seem to overwhelming; I would be reinforcing the perception that flipping is just videos.  

Continuing in this vein, should have been to show my day to day use, like what I do to track 1) that the video notes for class are taken and 2) how well the students understood and could apply the information from the videos: my flipped questions.  I could even have discussed my growing desire to change these questions to something more open-ended and why I feel that change needs to take place; how the responses determine what I need to re-explain at the beginning of class and how I might need to tweak what’s done in class to address common misconceptions.  In addition, I could have pointed to the other ways I’ve flipped my class by showing the explore labs and simulations, i.e., not videos, I use for each major concept/unit.

Once, this had been done, I should have focused in on a few steps to flip a lesson.  This would have made flipping seem do-able and would have provided a stepping stone for each teacher upon leaving the room.

First, how do they want to curate their resources.  This means, I would need to know who already had a website (an oversight that hit me the last 15 minutes of my session).  If you already have one, this question is answered.  If not, then, do you want a website, a wikispace; do you want to use Dropbox, Box, GoogleDrive (an obvious choice especially since every single person in our district has a google account); do you want a blog?  Associated with this would be determining what students do, and do not, have access from home; then, having a plan to address those without access.

Second, in my mind, would be determining if a video is the right choice.  There are so many videos already out there in all subjects done by other teachers, that they could have found a couple to explore related to the topic they would want to flip.  If a video is not appropriate, what would be: an article to read that requires a written response to be brought in or blogged about?  I don’t know, but they do: they know their subject, they know their students (I don’t have to know this and I forgot that).  Again, the follow-up to this, what can you do for those without access?  For videos a USB perhaps or a DVD or the first five minutes of class or something I haven’t written…a chance to discuss this with others in the session might have turned up other ideas.

Third, determine what will be done during the face-to-face time with the students to build upon and apply what they had just designed as their students’ homework.  The crux of the flip: how will you focus this crucial learning time to help the students grow and internalize the material and concepts.  How will you utilize the community to help each individual?  When thinking about this, they could have also discussed common misconceptions they already know to anticipate as well as determine what assessments, whether formative or summative or both, they would use to check for student understanding and growth.

I think these few changes would have made my session so much better.  I have two hopes now: 1) I did not turn anyone away from the idea of flipping; and 2) I will get to redeem myself in the future.  I guess that’s the beauty of living and learning (and failing oh so publicly).

I leave you, though, with a question:  what else should I add to my list of three?  What have I forgotten?


Struggle is Not Weakness

Frigid Perfection

By <rs>snaps

Perfection, the unattainable dream of many, seems to drive much of what people do, or don’t do. It’s pervasive, especially in the ivory towers of education; at the vey least, its classrooms. Whether it comes from the students (I need to be perfect for daddy) or the parents (a B, no, you need to get an A), its malingering affect is seen in our interpretation of struggle as slow/dumb/stupid, choose your epithet.

This interpretation is not mine, rather it’s from an NPR interview with Jim Stigler our librarian shared with our staff a month or so ago, but it resounded with such clarity within me. In essence, there is a cultural difference between East & West that boils down to expectations about how students will perform in school.  In the East, the expectation is that every student will struggle in school with something.  Not so in the West.  Our treatment of the non-struggling student is they must be smart, therefore, the struggling student isn’t.  This expectation and interpretation, then, ultimately informs a student’s definition of ‘smart,’ simultaneously creating the grade-defined neurotic & the apathetic classroom-dropout (body present, mind elsewhere).
What are we doing!? Everyone knows failure happens, it’s part of learning, it’s part of living. Yet, everything we do as teachers is to make it easier, gamify it, make it fun, at all costs cover-up the struggle involved.  Do not misunderstand me, if any student learns the content while gaining the lesson of perseverance, do it, gamify away.  That’s not my point. We have lost sight of the importance of working at something and letting students puzzle through and struggle openly and for as long as it takes for them to achieve understanding.

Failure is success if we learn from it.

Malcolm Forbes

Because when they struggle openly, their achievement is sweeter and much more satisfying because it is publicly acknowledged.  It is also far more likely that that student will persevere with each new challenge faced.  Without developing this immeasurable skill, I believe we do a disservice to each student we come in contact with.

Of course, how to do this, that’s the million dollar question.

Burgeoning on Failure and Success

by 'PixelPlacebo'

Without wasting too much space, let’s start with some background.  First, the movie Waiting for Superman.  The main problem I had with the premise of the movie is if, as the teacher, I was responsible for a student’s failure, by this logic, I’m also responsible for that student’s success.  As such, if I am to be accountable for a student failing, I should receive accolades for their success as neither, failure or success, are due to the student.  (Which, to me, is the premise of merit pay in the education system, but I digress.)  I knew this was wrong.  However, I shuffled it off to the side of my mind as a stand-alone-idea, a critique of a segment of education, but not indicative of a cultural belief, not a paradigm.  Second, the prevailing theme in any student conference, parent conference, staff meeting, goal-team meeting (High Schools That Work anyone?), and professional learning community in my district is a single question.  If a student is failing, had I, as the teacher, done everything I possibly could to help them?  This would be the first question any administrator would ask.  It’s answer would be paramount.

Now about this past the semester.  After going to my first NSTA convention and spending this past summer jumping into the twitterverse, the power of Web 2.0 in the classroom, and reading Out of Our Minds, I saw that I needed to modify my instruction to reach and prepare more 21st century students (the digital natives) with the technological skills important for success as they move within and beyond high school.  The result was the incorporation of blogs (including joining forces with Terie Engelbrecht to have our freshmen comment on each other’s blogs), using Diigo for all research and bibliographies, using a wiki as the platform for a freshman cross-curricular project I stole from the EdTechInnovators, using whiteboards for small and paired problem solving, incorporating case studies, and flipping my class.

Flash forward and I have very mixed reviews; the successes and failures of the semester are not cut and dried.  The flipped class, as I read someone comment on the ning, is not a ‘silver bullet.’  Yet, when I had students do it and use it as it could be used, it worked.  This wasn’t exactly shocking, I had hoped for this.  What I did have difficulty grasping was the apathy of several students, the academic choice to not take the notes at all, and the genuine confusion about the connection between this lack of studying and their poor/limited understanding.  I was bumfuzzled.  It seemed obvious: no study, i.e., no notes and no effort outside of class, would result in difficulty with the material; especially in Chemistry where, as a colleague put it, “You have to be able to put two synapses together.”  Anatomy aside, her point was lost on some of my students.

My incorporation of whiteboards was not stellar either, though, I’m quite sure it’s in large part to my uncertainty and lack of creativity in using it.  Simply, gotta fix this; I know it’s worth while, but it can’t be what it was or it’s a waste of everyone’s time.  The case studies are multi-system, which I thought would be their strength, but I didn’t have the expected pay off with this global approach.  Again, I think it’s in part due to my lack.  I dropped the ball in not developing a specific rubric or clear expectation of what needed to be in the summary of learning for each case study, I stuck to generalities.

Then there’s the wiki.  I think I suffered from delusions of grandeur as freshmen are not juniors/seniors.  As such, it needs scaffolding, some sort of defined framework.  This way the students can build from it rather than trying to create something this big and undefined from scratch.  The blogs were a semi-success, though, I settled for too few of them; and, again, freshmen (especially fall freshmen straight out of middle school) are lacking the self-discipline to follow-up on comments independently.  I definitely need to supervise this more closely.

And, at last, why I wrote this: I have never worked so hard in a semester, put in so many extra hours, and had students not.  It’s not their fault, it’s mine.  You see, I finally realized I had bought into the fallacy I had criticized in Waiting for Superman; I had bought into the question framing education: am I really doing everything I can?  I participated in the disenfranchisement of students from their own learning.  I had done more than just allow them to abrogate their responsibility as learners, I had lead the charge because I was constantly being expected by students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and myself to justify and demonstrate how much I was doing to ensure every student learned.  The question framing education should be personal and student-centered, not teacher-centered.  Has the student done everything possible?  What has the student done to help him/herself?  I’m not saying I’m irrelevant, but I’m replaceable (every teacher is), especially if I truly want to be the ‘guide on the side’ and not the ‘sage on the stage.’  This, I think (sometimes without conscious realization) is the heart of current reform and changes in instructional practices: a need to incorporate real student accountability, a need to put students back in charge of their learning.

In this upcoming semester, I want students have a stake in their education.  I want them to know: struggle is not a bad thing; failure is not to be avoided; hard and work are not ugly four letter words, quit is.  I want the students to know there is an expectation of, a responsibility held by each individual, to learn.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Too cliche?  Probably, but I don’t want another ambivalent semester.  I want a blaze of glory or abject failure for my students and myself; not a quiet pfft.